Former Basketball Coach Jim Murphy Dies at 68

Former Basketball Coach Jim Murphy Dies at 68
Posted on 07/17/2017

Wausau Daily Herald
07/12/2017 - Page A01

Former basketball coach Jim Murphy dies at 68

West’s winningest coach had battled lung disease, is remembered fondly

TIM JOHNSON
USA TODAY NETWORK-WISCONSIN

WAUSAU - Jim Murphy walked into the Wausau West locker room at halftime. It was the state’s sectional finals in basketball in the year 2000, and the game was not going well. The Warriors players expected an epic rant. What they got was just the opposite. Murphy "walked in, grabbed (West guard) Justin Hardell by the foot and said, ‘Justin, we are going to be OK. Everything is going to be fine. Everyone just breathe,’" said Jeff Bruggink, who was an assistant coach on that team. "It was the direct opposite of what everyone thought he would say.

"That kind of relaxed everyone, and we came back in the second half and won that game."

That was Murphy, Bruggink said. He knew his players, knew what they needed and what would work to encourage them.

Murphy, West’s all-time winningest coach, led the Warriors to the state tournament in 1997 and 2000, died July 5 at 68 years old after a lengthy battle with a lung disease. A public visitation will be held for Murphy from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Thursday at Greenwood Hills Country Club, with tributes beginning at 6 p.m. Murphy was an avid golfer and one of the founding members of Greenwood Hills.

Murphy, who taught special education and then U.S. history during his education career, won a total of 202 games in 15 years as a boys basketball coach at Ashland and Wausau West high schools. He posted a 176-119 mark in 13 seasons at West and won the Wisconsin Valley Conference championship three times with the aggressive man-to-man defense style that became a trademark of the Warriors.

"He had that (former Wisconsin coach) Dick Bennett defensive-minded style," Bruggink said. "We wanted to get after people and be the team that nobody wanted to play on a Friday night." Bruggink was an assistant coach for 11 seasons with Murphy and then was the head coach for West from 2005-2013.

"When I got the job (as West’s head coach) pretty much everything we did was Jim Murphy basketball," he said.

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The hard-nosed system seemed to fit Murphy, a Fond du Lac native who graduated from St. Mary’s Springs, enlisted in the Army and was stationed in Korea during the Vietnam War. He then graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and got a master’s degree from UW-Oshkosh. His first boys basketball coaching job was with the junior varsity squad in Two Rivers. He coached there for five years before he got the position in Ashland and led the Oredockers to a Lake Superior Conference title in his second season.

"I think (the defensive style) deep down was who he was," said his son, Will Murphy, who was a junior point guard for West’s 1997 state tournament team. "He was a fiercely competitive guy, a high-intensity guy, and I think that transfers better into a man-to-man defense better than it does a zone defense. He taught his teams just about every offensive and defensive scheme under the sun, but he would always default to an up-tempo style of play and that man-to-man defense that he became known for."

Murphy was also known to run his team through some intense practices during the season.

"(Practice) was two hours and there was no slacking off on drills. It was intense and guys were getting after it, but it transferred into games. We were relentless (on opponents)," Bruggink said.

There were times when practices ended early with no warning, however.

"If (the team was) having a dog practice, he was famous for kicking us out of the gym (early)," said Tim Freiberg, a guard on the 1997 West team. "As the years went on, we realized a lot of times it happened when we had about a 7:15 (p.m.) start to practice and Duke and North Carolina were playing that night, or the Badgers had a big game." Freiberg said he and his former teammates laugh when they think the early dismissals may have been premeditated.

Murphy could be a demanding coach, but he was one who had his player’s best interests in mind. He would be there for his players long after their playing days at West were over.

"One of the players on the ’97 team (Rich Steif) got into a bad accident seven years ago … and when (Murphy) found out about it he rallied the rest of (the ’97) team round him," Freiberg said. "(Steif) was in the hospital for about three months and (Murphy) spent a lot of time there with him and did about everything he could for him."

Curt Richardt played three seasons for Murphy, beginning as a sophomore for the 1990-91 season. He also served as an assistant coach for Murphy for a few seasons in the late 1990s. One of the last times Richardt saw his former coach was late this winter. Richardt’s father was in the hospital and Murphy paid the family a visit there.

"I was sitting there one night with my mom and one of my brothers and in walks coach. I don’t even know how he found out my dad was in the hospital," said Richardt, who is currently an assistant coach with the West boys basketball program. "He showed up and next thing you know its three hours later and we’re still sitting there talking. We talked about everything that night."

Tim Johnson: 715-845-0731, or twjohnson@gannett.com; on Twitter @timmyjo11